I will be brief and try to answer all the questions. I might be repetitious but I will reply anyway. I thank the members for their ongoing interest in this matter. It has dragged on a little longer than anticipated over the past two years. I would have expected to have the full report at this stage. Senator Boyhan asked when it will be delivered. I am told that it is being finalised and that I will have it in the next ten days or so. It is now my intention to publish it when I receive it. When I receive it I will have to engage with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but at this stage the least I should do for the councillors is ensure that it is published once it is received. I acknowledge what Senator Ó Domhnaill said, which is that the process outlined a month ago could be very long. I believe it should be published when I get it.
Senator Boyhan asked if I had seen a draft. I saw one draft and I sent it back two months ago. As to the parameters of the delay, I cannot outline the reasons but I expect to have it in the immediate future. I am a little reticent about giving timeframes in light of the fact that I previously gave a timeframe that I expected to meet. These things are outside my control. Senator Boyhan also said that he does not support decoupling from Senators. I do. I believe all public servants, including councillors, should be treated the same and that, as Senator Ó Domhnaill said, we should not be returning to councillors as a stand-alone item at any stage in the future. They should be treated like every other public servant. I have no problem giving a commitment that I will continue to engage.
I did not hear the radio programme this morning, but I received a report on it. What was contained therein was a fair synopsis of all the speculation I have heard in the last few weeks. However, as the final report has not been published I am not in a position to talk about final figures. Deputy Cassells asked about a specific figure of €7.5 million per annum. Again, this was in the context of this morning's radio programme. That may well be the figure from this morning's programme, but having not received the final report I cannot confirm or deny that figure.
I have discussed this with the Taoiseach. In fact, it was the Taoiseach and I who decided that we need to do something in this area and that is why Ms Moorhead was appointed. I have also discussed it with the Minister for Finance. Both of them are committed and share my view that councillors should not be the worst paid people in the room among local authority staff, which is the current position. Essentially, councillors work for the minimum wage and even slightly less in some cases. That is why this group was established. The proof of the pudding in respect of my colleagues and the Minister for Finance will come in the next stage of this process, but he has been very committed up to this point to ensuring that councillors are paid better than they are at present.
On the initial payment, having discussed it with the County and City Management Association my view is that the Government will have to provide the initial funding, particularly in light of the fact that many budgets are already finalised, but it will have to be built into local government funding thereafter. Several members of the committee asked about that, including Deputy Cassells.
Deputy Ó Broin is right that we have given extra powers not just to directly elected mayors, which is starting in Limerick, but also in respect of the rates alleviation measures. I am not sure whether councils acted on them in the most recent budgets, but that power for them to reduce rates is now in place. It is a new role that councillors did not have previously in terms of a targeted scheme built around their local area plans or county or city development plans.
One of the reasons it is difficult to attract people is certainly low pay. I am aware of the Sinn Féin submission with regard to full-time and part-time councillors. I do not agree with it. I do not believe there should be two types of councillor. We had that previously with regard to town councillors and county councillors and the issue of some areas having two ballot papers and others having one. There is value in having a mix of people who are members of local authorities - people who are not just other public servants or people who are retired or who are students but also people who are in full-time employment and who wish to serve their local community. They should be accommodated without being a second class. I realise that is not the intention, but it might be the result of having a differentiation between full-time and part-time.
As regards publication, I will do it immediately upon receipt of the report, which should be in the next couple of weeks and well in advance of the new year. Then there will be discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. After that the people in the Department will decide on where the money comes from, what the rate will be and what the path will be. There is a strong possibility that it will be part of the public sector pay talks which are due to commence next year. However, that decision has not yet been made so I cannot comment further on it. It will be part of the discussions I will have with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
On Senator Conway's contribution, I commented on the timelines. He is correct that the matter was discussed a great deal before the last local elections. I gave commitments that it would be addressed and I am still determined that it will be. I acknowledge that councillors are underpaid at present for the work they do and the amount of time that goes into the job. I am committed to ensuring that whatever is in the report is implemented, but that will be a process of negotiation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I know that I have the support of members here, and other members, in terms of those discussions that will take place in the near future. Reference was made to a reduction in the size of the local electoral areas, which has helped councillors to be able to better serve their local communities. I have always believed that local councillors should be local and that we would not have the monster electoral areas that were created in 2014. It is correct to say that the issue is not popular but I too share the view that it should be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. It is my position, as I have stated previously and I will restate it here, that the expenses councillors generate in the pursuit of their work in terms of mileage, which are on the same rates as Oireachtas Members and other public and civil servants, should be retained. That element of the job is not going to change. Equally, there is an inherent value in the education and training budgets councillors get because they allow for an exchange of information and an opportunity for councillors to network and to learn from one another, and those funds facilitate that.
I assure Senator Mark Daly that I have not diverted from my view that this should be dated from the last local election. It is a bit like boundaries when it comes to elections; there should be natural boundaries and elections are natural boundaries politically. I have not moved from that. Again, as I said at the outset, central government will have to pick up any increases or a substantial amount of them, but after that it will have to be built into the budgets of local authorities. From my point of view, as I stated it from the start, the aim is very clearly to link it to public sector pay so that this never happens again and that there will not be politicians in the future deciding the pay of other politicians. That should not happen. It is the last vestige of that. It should have been done when Oireachtas Members were linked to the public service. A similar arrangement should have been introduced at that time rather than to Senators.
In response to Senator Ó Domhnaill's question, I addressed the timeline. He said that pay should be 50% of the pay of Senators. I do not agree with that, but it should be substantially more than it is at present. I have not received the report. I expect to receive it very shortly and I will publish it immediately.
The change Senator Warfield referred to in relation to pensions is the reckonability of councillors' PRSI contributions towards their State pension. As I understand it, and this is the position I will enter into in negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the pension gratuity system that existed up until the most recent election should remain.